Dresses Rule, Pants Drool and Other Facts of Life

TBM Topic 15: The Feminine Genius – The Dress

“Dresses Rule, Pants Drool and Other Facts of Life” by Julie Robison
“Dresses & the Apostolate of Beauty” by Trista at Not a Minx, Moron, or a Parasite
“Month of the Dress” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

I’ll never forget standing in line for dinner at college. First of all, I’m in line for food I pre-paid for but did not want at present, minus the cereal bar (which I could have eaten in my dorm room).

Secondly, I was standing behind a girl and her boyfriend. The girl had been on the hall I was an RA for; the boyfriend was Trad-Catholic. She said hi and introduced us. I was wearing jeans. He told me girls shouldn’t wear pants. I asked him where Jesus forbade women from wearing pants; was it before or after he gave us the Golden Rule to love our neighbor as ourselves?

Our relationship, as you can guess, did not blossom.

Females hate being told what to do. That is our job, to boss the rest of the world around!

Another reason that particular male upset me is because I actually prefer dresses and skirts, but I also like that I have the opportunity to wear pants (especially in college, while trudging through feet of snow), just as I like that I have the opportunity to vote, hold a job and make my own life decisions.

Females have not only the ability to wear pants, but to look nice in pants, especially if the pair fits well; if the pair also happens comes in a fabulous color, more power to pants!

Would I look cuter wearing pants in this picture? Dubious.

These opportunities, sadly, are few and far between. As Fall approacheth, women ask the big question: where have all the good pants gone? With a decline in tailored clothes, pants now fit awkwardly in order to appease the masses. My sisters and I lament: The butt is too big. The legs are too skinny. These hips don’t lie.

Hence, I love wearing dresses and skirts. There is true genius in this for-female-use-only attire, and here are my top TEN reasons why I think so:

10. Wearing a dress makes girls feel put together and confidant! No matter a girl’s size, few people look dumpy in a dress. Dresses have the ability to make you feel pretty.

So many beautiful girls in beautiful dresses!

9. God made us women to be the most beautiful creatures on earth, inside and out. If we want to show our inner beauty, why not show off our outer beauty too by wearing dresses? Heels are optional; I prefer kitten heels or ballet flats myself.

8. To look (and want to look!) pretty is not vain, unless you only care about your outer appearance. Remember in Jane Eyre? When Jane’s friend had her beautiful curls cut off to keep her from becoming vain? Unnecessary, according to Roman Catholic theology. Beauty is a reflection of God’s goodness in the world.

7. Dresses and skirts help draw attention to the waist, not the hips, unlike pants. More proof that pants are not your friend.

6. Dresses flatter the body much better than pants ever could. Also, you are fully clothed if you are wearing a dress. If you only wore pants, that would be indecent!

5. Dresses are versatile! They can be dressed up and down, based on accessories, fabric and style. You could wear the same dress for a week and look different every day. If boys can wear the same pants every day, why can’t girls wear the same dress? They can also be worn year-round and in any weather, unlike pants and shorts.

Isn’t Bear gorgeous? And her dress? Divine!

4. The colors, Duke, the colors! Not to mention, the patterns, the fabrics, the styles and the occasions that all help make a dress great. Pants can have all of the above too, but the effect would not be the same. Dressing up is like becoming a work of art, and more fully shows your womanly beauty in a wholesome way.

3. Dresses require more effort to be modest. If one is wearing a dress, a lady must cross her legs or ankles. If one’s dress has no sleeves or dips a bit, then a lady must wear extra clothing to cover her shoulders and/ or chest area. A lady loves sundresses, but not short dresses.

2. Dresses are not just for girly-girls. Dresses are for all girls! Dresses are a distinct style that no person can imitate. No girl wears the same dress the exact same way. As Lilly Dache said, “Glamour is what makes a man ask for your telephone number. But it also is what makes a woman ask for the name of your dressmaker.”

1. Dresses are classy. Catholics are classy. Ergo, Catholic girls wear dresses!

Grace Kelly: Catholic, classy and fellow dress wearer

There are, of course, perks to wearing pants too. This is the only one I am willing to concede:

Happy Tuesday!

Ain’t Tat Something

TBM Topic 12: Tattoos

“Ain’t Tat Something” by Julie Robison
“In Memory Of” by Trista at Not a Minx, Moron, or a Parasite
“Needle and the damage done” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

Last Tuesday, I drove my brother north to his interview with the Navy. I was struck by the number of times the Lieutenant asked him if he had any tattoos. I found out later that the Navy allows tattoos if they are covered by conventional clothing (i.e. chest, back), but not otherwise. I am not sure why this is, but it made me think of Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Parker’s Back.”

O.E. Parker, the protagonist, had been in the Navy. Nearly his entire body is covered with tattoos, with the notable exception of his back. Parker was “as ordinary as a loaf of bread” and began getting tattoos put on his body after he saw a man at a fair who was tattooed from head to foot. “Until he saw this man at the fair,” wrote O’Connor, “it did not enter his head that there was anything out of the ordinary about the fact that he existed.”

Parker later falls in love with Sarah Ruth, who was “forever sniffing up sin.” She was the daughter of a “Straight Gospel preacher,” and was the first woman he met who did not approve of his tattoos, calling them “a heap of vanity.” He is not religious or interested in it, but still wants to make an effort to please his wife, who constantly threatens his lax language with references to Judgment Day.

The Christ

And so, Parker decides to get a tattoo of the Byzantine Christ on his back for her. It takes the artist two days and Parker pays $20. The tattooist (and later, men at the pool hall) asks if Parker has gone and “got religion” and if he is “ saved” now. “Naw,” Parker replied; “I ain’t got no use for none of that. A man can’t save his self from whatever it is he don’t deserve any of my sympathy. …I married a woman that’s saved, ” is his defense. Parker believes she’ll like it because “She can’t help herself… She can’t say she don’t like the looks of God.”

Sarah Ruth, in  fact, doesn’t like it. She takes a broom and whacks him on the back again and again, screaming “idolatry!” at her husband; “I can put up with lies and vanity but I don’t want no idolater in this house!” When she sees the face of the Christ, she says she doesn’t know him. When Parker says it’s God, she asserts that God “don’t look. He’s a spirit. No man shall see his face.”

I love this short story. Mainly for its mockery of the assertion that God is merely a spirit, which is practically a denial that Jesus is the Word made flesh and lived on this earth, but also for its social commentary. Parker’s mother, for instance, “wept over what was becoming of him” after he got his first tattoo (and then began to drink beer and get in fights). She will not pay for his tattoos (except for the one with her name on it) and attempts to drag her son to a revival, before he runs away from home and joins the Navy. His wife barely tolerates the tattoos, and prefers him his sleeves rolled down and fully covered. Before her, he found that women were attracted to his tattoos and men liked to gawk at his new tattoos. He never felt satisfied for long, and always yearned for another tattoo, filling the space, searching for his next one. It’s a beautiful and physical image of a man looking for personal fulfillment.

I do not think tattoos are an issue of morals or faith. The argument that one should respect one’s body can easily be countered by examples of people who disrespect their body by overeating and/ or drinking, indulging in sexual appetites, and violence. In terms of my Catholicism and tattoos, there is nothing in my beliefs which sway me here or there on tattoos.

There is no right or wrong answer on tattoos. My own opinion, of course, generally thumbs its nose down at tattoos. There are, of course, exceptions and double-standards. I don’t mind them on males nearly as much as I despise them on girls. There are also industries where outside appearance matters– in banking, law, and medicine, for instance– visibly noticeable tattoos would not be tolerated.

For me, the bigger question is why: Why are you getting that tattoo? Why are you putting it there? Why are you inking something permanently to your largest organ?

a depiction of Parker’s back

Apparently tats are big chick and/ or hipster magnets. I’m sorry, I meant “tattoos.” I was trying to sound hip, which I am not. In all seriousness, tattoos do hold a fascination for many people. I cannot suppose why, but O’Connor gave me an inkling into such a sentiment.

Near the end of “Parker’s Back,” O’Connor wrote, “Parker sat for a long time on the ground in the alley behind the pool hall, examining his soul. He saw it as a spider web of facts and lies that was not at all important to him but which appeared to be necessary in spite of his opinion. The eyes that were not forever on his back [of Jesus Chris] were eyes to be obeyed. He was as certain of it as he had ever been of anything.”

In the end, in the Resurrection of the body, God-in-Three will not be concerned with the marks on our body, but the state of our souls, our pursuit of truth and our love of God and each other. A tattoo is not going to disrupt our journey towards God, and it should not be a distraction to believers or non-believers alike. One day, when we see the face of God, that will be something to stare at; but for now, tat’s tat!

Do you have a Twitter? Follow us! @BrightMaidens

In addendum: If you want to know why this post is late, read here. If you want to read Will’s guest post, click here.

The Gucci Awakening

TBM Topic 11: Catholic Modesty

“The Gucci Awakening” by Julie Robison
“Never Give Beauty Another Negative Thought” by Trista at Not a Minx, Moron, or a Parasite
“Be decent to each other” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

Joshua also said to the people, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will perform wonders among you.” (Joshua 3:5)

“People in my grade look so much more mature than me,” said my 15 going on 16 year old sister. We peered into the computer screen, and looked at a girl we’ve all known since she was a wee tot, not yet 16, wearing a tight fitting tank top and shorter skirt. I felt a twinge of simultaneously feeling young and old at age 23, wearing a green blouse and blue jumper dress, and then felt sorry for her, so grown up in looks and  not realizing her whole worth, and the need to protect her body, not just show it off.

Two Sundays ago, the head pastor at my grandparents’ parish wrote in the bulletin about proper Mass attire during the summer months. Father wrote,

Once again the summer months are here and we have to remind ourselves of proper Mass clothing. It is hot, and sometimes we don’t give it a second thought, but we should be conscious of what we wear to Mass. Remember our church is air-conditioned. Men and teenage boys should wear trousers and a dress shirt. Women should wear modest dresses that fall below the knee, and modest blouses and slacks. Flip flops, shorts, tee shirts, and any type of immodest clothing should not be worn to Holy Mass. Remember the rule: I am conscious of what I wear to Mass and it is modest for the Holy Congregation. We owe this respect to Jesus and Our Lady, and to each other. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

While I am in complete agreement—perturbed, even, at how people are so casually dressed at Mass—my grandmother, aunt and I said the same thing: good luck getting women to wear dresses that fall below the knee.

Sorry it’s above the knee Father, but I love this skirt.

Today’s retail stores simply do not offer many (if any) dresses or skirts that long at the wide-scale level. Most of my dresses and skirts go to my knee, or slightly above. Pencil skirts notwithstanding, dress and skirt lengths today do not typically go past the knee unless they are going all the way to the ankle. Moreover, length is not the only litmus test for modesty.

In South Korea, women do not show their shoulders. They may wear very short skirts and high heels, but their chest area is completely covered. A lot of summer dresses in the States have skinny straps and lower fronts (and sometimes lower backs as well). I wear cardigans to work almost every day, especially if my dress has no sleeves. But what of the dress’s fit? I tried on a dress last week for an upcoming wedding. It wasn’t tight, but it was fitted, and made me self-conscious of my figure. I asked the sales ladies for their opinion.

“If you’ve got the figure, wear it!” was the consensus. I did not buy it. Besides the color being too muted for my Irish skin’s liking, I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea that this dress would fit me so well. Clothes should fit, but there is a line between fitting and fitted. I do not like being stared at, or wearing something that I know will prompt stares. I was stared at a lot in Asia because I was usually the only Caucasian walking around, but that was different than prompting men to give you the once-over.

Totally normal, every day activity

Ephesians 5:1-4, 15-16 says, “So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma. Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones, no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place, but instead, thanksgiving. … Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.”

Since we are now under a Democrat president again, there has been a lot of Bible thumpin’ across America, calling for a revival, religious and political. Take back America! But what are we exactly taking back? We do not live in the Founding days of the country. Since the major wars, women’s fashion has used considerably less fabric. The sexual revolution during the 1960s helped confuse the meaning and understanding of the word “decent.” Sex has become less sacred and more socially acceptable to talk about in common venues. Sex, as a symbol, has become an esoteric subject more related to fashion and less to the family, where, when sex happened, so did kids.

Jennifer Moses, in her May 19 WSJ op-ed “Why Do We Let Them Dress Like That?”, asked the tough questions: “Why do so many of us not only permit our teenage daughters to dress like this—like prostitutes, if we’re being honest with ourselves—but pay for them to do it with our AmEx cards?”

She writes,

We are the first moms in history to have grown up with widely available birth control, the first who didn’t have to worry about getting knocked up. We were also the first not only to be free of old-fashioned fears about our reputations but actually pressured by our peers and the wider culture to find our true womanhood in the bedroom. Not all of us are former good-time girls now drowning in regret—I know women of my generation who waited until marriage—but that’s certainly the norm among my peers.

If you have a problem with the way I dress, says the Modern Woman, you’re an old fart.

No, no, says the Modern Man- you keep wearing the short skirt and showing me your cleavage. More power to you!

Fine J-Lo, you can be a Mom AND wear Gucci

R.R. Reno, the new Editor in Chief of First Things, wrote in the June/ July issue about “The Preferential Option for the Poor.” His answer to our poverty problem is not only that there is not enough money going around. He writes about today’s “Gucci bohemians”:

A Christian who hopes to follow the teachings of Jesus needs to reckon with a singular fact about American poverty: Its deepest and most debilitating deficits are moral, not financial; the most serious deprivations are cultural, not economic. Many people living at the bottom of American society have cell phones, flat-screen TVs, and some of the other goodies of consumer culture. But their lives are a mess. 

And why? It’s a complicated question that I can’t convincingly answer here. But I want to end with a suggestion, if not an argument. 

On the question of social justice, Pope John Paul II once wrote, “The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich.” For most of my life (I was born in 1959), the rich and well-educated in America have desired nothing more than the personal freedoms of bohemian liberation. The rich, we must be clear, include the secure and successful academic and professional upper middle classes. I am not talking only about people who live in penthouses, but about people like us and those we know. 

This bohemian liberation has involved the sexual revolution, of course, with the consequent weakening of the constraining and disciplining norms of a healthy culture of marriage. But the ways in which the rich have embraced their freedoms hasn’t involved only sex and marriage. It also includes the verbal antinomianism typified by George Carlin’s campaigns to normalize obscenity, suburban librarians insisting on the right to view pornography, tech billionaires who dress like dockworkers, a feminism that mocks the social mores that make women ladies and men gentleman, and many other attacks on older notions of bourgeois respectability.

“Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society,” wrote St. Francis of Assisi. The return of modesty comes with singular witnesses dressing appropriately and stylishly. Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, for instance, was beautiful as it was modest, and millions of people saw that, and loved it. I couldn’t walk through a grocery store without seeing magazine covers oozing over her and her dress, right next to a picture of an actress falling out of her own respective garments.

Classy, beautiful, simple and modest. So fetch.

Reno went on to say,

The bohemian fantasy works against this clear imperative, because it promises us that we can attend to the poor without paying any attention to our own manner of living. Appeals to aid the less fortunate, however urgent, make few demands on our day-to-day lives. … Want to help the poor? By all means pay your taxes and give to agencies that provide social services. By all means volunteer in a soup kitchen or help build houses for those who can’t afford them. But you can do much more for the poor by getting married and remaining faithful to your spouse. Have the courage to use old-fashioned words such as chaste and honorable. Put on a tie. Turn off the trashy reality TV shows. Sit down to dinner every night with your family. Stop using expletives as exclamation marks. Go to church or synagogue.

I quote him at length not only because he says it well, but to show that this problem is not generational for the Catholic Young Thangs. But it’s our cross to carry, and our creative outlet. We are blessed to uphold beauty and goodness and truth for the Church, and we get to show it through our dress as well as our actions and words. Modesty is not only about covering up – it is about acting, speaking and thinking in a way that is considerate of others, as well as one’s one being. Otherwise, the immodesty of one creeps into the others, inwardly and, soon enough, outwardly.

Modesty reminds me of when “Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”

It’s time to awaken our inner beauty, and seek virtue through the presentations of our bodies. It is written in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, “Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.”

Modesty: the best policy! 

Glorify does not mean hide away in a brown sack; rather, the body can be used as a means of praise. By not using the body as a temptation, it is an opportunity for we Christians to preach the Gospel without words, helping attract people to God through our sanctified bodies and souls, and to show the goodness that is the Lord. Modesty is a person’s expression of this, and is a gift to all who come into its sight.

Guest Post: Individual Modesty

TBM Topic 11: Catholic Modesty

Join the discussion!

Guest post by B.

Please note that this is in particular regard to clothing. On the subject of Catholic modesty, it is written in the Catechism that:

2521. Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.

I couldn’t agree more. As a 20-something male exploding with youth, sex crosses my mind a bajillion times a day. When I see a young women dressed immodestly, it is much, much harder to recognize the “intimate center of the person,” and rather focus on what I see in front of me: a piece of meat. I think if people want to be considered for who they really are, and not just their body, modesty is essential.

The problem, however, is identifying what exactly is modesty. The Catechism says that it means “refusing to unveil what should remain hidden.” That’s all good and wonderful, but it also very vague. What, exactly, should remain hidden? Staggeringly different opinions on this matter are observed through the world and history. Throughout all of our time on this planet, we’ve nailed it down to somewhere between this and this.

So where exactly does Catholic modesty lie? At what point does one begin taking excessive measures to preserve modesty? Can a Catholic show her shoulders? Can a Catholic man take off his shirt on the tennis court when it’s 90 degrees? How about a woman? How about a woman if she’s wearing a sports bra? Can a Catholic wear a bikini? These questions are impossible to answer, because it doesn’t seem like there is an objective standard for quantitative modesty at all.

If an explicit objective standard besides ‘be modest’ doesn’t exist, what is a Catholic to do? A simple test is to ask yourself why you’re wearing what you’re wearing. Are you wearing a particular item to inspire lust in someone else, or are you wearing it because it’s hot outside, or because you need more flexibility? Since no one can definitively say what body parts are okay to display, and how much, then it would seem that everything is fair game in the proper context.

That certainly isn’t a license to wear whatever you want wherever you want, but it gives a person freedom to wear what items that best handle particular situations. There doesn’t seem much reason to wear a skin-tight leotard on the streets except to show off your body, but on the gymnasium floor every ounce of flexibility is needed. The former is immodest, the latter isn’t.

I think it’s important to note as well that while a person should be modest to avoid stirring temptation in others, it’s also very fair to expect maturity from your fellow man. If this wasn’t the case, everyone would be obligated to wear burqas in order to minimize lustful impulses. If you see a person with clothes you deem immodest, think about why they’re wearing what they’re wearing. If I do that and I still think that they could wear items more conservative while still being comfortable and not impeding their actions, I feel I have room to criticize.

It’s interesting to imagine if we grew up in an environment where what scandalizes us today were commonplace, those things might not be as likely to inspire the same kind of lustful thinking as they do now. I think Victorians were prudish; they would likely think me highly immodest, at the least.

Modesty is important to protect personhood. Clothing and actions should be conservative to the point of compromising practical comfort/need. This means modest dress can cover a wide range of dress depending on a person’s situation. In the situations where less clothing is required, it should be expected of your fellow man to repress his lust the best he can and deal, and eventually society will get used to it. Be aware that if you’re concerned whether or not your crossing the line from modest to immodest, erring on the side of more than less is the best way to preserve your personhood in the eyes of others.

Throw some shorts over those bikini bottoms.

Bright Maidens: Never Give Beauty Another Negative Thought

 The “Bright Maidens” were originally three from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. Now, we all take up the cross to dispel the myths and misconceptions. Welcome!
Topic: Catholic Modesty
Never Give Beauty Another Negative Thought

I’ll be honest: I get nervous when I read about modesty on Catholic blogs.  It often seems women stop talking about the beauty of modesty and go straight to a list of rules.  Suddenly, I must decide what my stance is on the pants vs. skirts debate, the sleeveless vs. sleeves conundrum, and grow a love of cardigans because one must be thrown over every outfit I wear. 
Blech.
One of my favorite shows is “What Not to Wear” on TLC.  Women are provided a fashion and beauty makeover after receiving encouragement and love from their family and friends.  The hosts, Stacy and Clinton, teach the women how to appropriately dress their bodies, often in shapes, fabrics, and colors they wouldn’t have previously considered.  During the last minutes of the show, the women unveil their new look to their family, usually gliding into the room with their heads held high and huge smiles on their faces.  They have gained confidence, reassurance of their beauty, and delight in their appearance.  When I think of this show, I wish we could do “Modesty: What TO Wear” for our culture.     
The Catechism has a very simple guideline for us regarding modesty and fashion:  “(2524) The forms taken by modesty vary from one culture to another.”  Instead of a fast-and-hard rule, the Church leaves this decision to us and our formed consciences.  No need for all the in-fighting and warring I mentioned up above.  Wear clothing that fits you properly.  Wear clothing that flatters you. Wear clothing that makes you feel beautiful!  Because you are beautiful!
   
We live in an immodest culture.  I think this stems from two things: unease/disbelief in personal beauty and failure of the fashion industry.  Wouldn’t it be refreshing to live in a culture where women are confident of their beauty?  Many women believe that they are not beautiful because they don’t look like supermodels or actresses who work out three hours a day.  We don’t look like the standard of beauty, so we must “rank” lower.  To make up for this lower “ranking,” women try to look sexy at all times.    

In addition, there is no uniform shape or size to women, yet we shop at the same stores where clothing, made with a generic, one-size-fits-all-mentality, is supposed to fit our different body types.  This doesn’t work.  I see a lot of women in ill-fitting clothes: tops too tight, shorts too big, shoes too clunky.  Their bodies look disproportionate.  I see women who have given up on their femininity.  From behind, they look exactly like men, dressed in men’s clothing.  When clothes were made in the home and tailored to the body, I think modesty and beauty were easier to achieve and believe.  Now, we must shop with a trained, discerning eye, knowing what fits us well and flatters our figures.
The Catechism says modesty “protects the mystery of persons…”  It encourages patience, time, effort, and commitment in relationships.  It curbs unhealthy curiosity, and makes ones discreet in manner and behavior. (2522)  In my opinion, as it protects the heart of a woman, it also slowly unveils the true beauty of her, and makes her makes her confident and relaxed in this.  She no longer has to fight to make rank or compete with others to affirm her beauty.  
I love this quote from Eva Luna by Isabel Allende: “I stopped examining myself in the mirror to compare myself to the perfect beauties of movies and magazines; I decided I was beautiful – for the simple reason that I wanted to be. And then never gave the matter a second thought.”  Modesty allows a woman to recognize that she is beautiful because God made her the way, and then she never has to give her beauty another negative thought. 

Men, you can help us in our quest to dress modesty.  If our beauty inspires your senses instead of assaulting you, let us know.  Give us that compliment.  Affirm our beauty and our dignity.

Check out the Bright Maidens on Facebook for other posts on this topic!